February 25, 2024

Indira Gandhi, India’s first and only female Prime Minister, was a force to be reckoned with. In fact, on this day she was made the Prime Minister of India. But beyond the realm of policy and power, Indira Gandhi also carved a unique niche in the world of fashion. Her embrace of the traditional Indian saree became a powerful tool for shaping public perception and challenging stereotypes.

1. Saree as a political statement

Indira’s sarees were carefully chosen statements. She favoured simple, handloom cotton weaves, often adorned with understated borders and minimal embellishments. This deliberate choice resonated with the ideals of self-reliance and swadeshi (supporting domestic products) championed by her father, Jawaharlal Nehru.  

2. Her signature hairstyle 

It wasn’t just her sarees that became iconic – her short, ironed hair became a distinctive feature, symbolizing efficiency, pragmatism, and a departure from traditional gender norms.

Indira Gandhi fashion icon

3. How she styled her attire

While the sarees themselves were unassuming, Indira’s way of wearing them added a touch of regality and power. She draped the pallu (loose end) over her head, a practice uncommon for politicians at the time. This created a distinct silhouette, one that exuded authority and gravitas. Her minimal jewellery often limited to a string of rudraksha beads, further emphasized her understated elegance.

Indira gandhi fashion icon

4. Occasional Glimpses of Western Influences

While the saree remained her signature garment, Indira occasionally ventured into Western wear. For formal occasions, she would don elegant gowns, often crafted by Indian designers and incorporating subtle Indian motifs. These sartorial choices showcased her ability to navigate different cultural spheres while maintaining her unique identity.

5. Her sarees broke stereotypes making them a global phenomenon

Her wardrobe choices humanized her in the eyes of the public, breaking stereotypes and challenging the conventional expectations of how a female political leader should present herself.

6. Indira Gandhi’s unique style was portrayed by several Bollywood actors in various movies as well. 

Many Indian actors including Kangana Ranaut in ‘Emergency’, Lara Dutta in ‘Bell Bottom’ and recently Fatima Sana Shaikh in ‘Sam Bahadur’ have portrayed her and her unique style in movies as well. They have accurately shown her signature hairstyle and beautifully draped sarees. 


Her legacy continues to inspire generations of women in India and around the world to embrace their heritage and rewrite the narrative of leadership in the public eye.